In a video lecture I watched recently, psychologist Ross Greene said that while parents of challenging kids may have more work cut out for them, they also get to go along on the ride with their children. While other parents are enjoying their child's accomplishments--some athletic achievement or winning a student council election or being a great artist, etc.--they are not as involved in the nitty-gritty day-to-day processes of learning any of these kinds of skills. With some encouragement and a good instructor, their kids just take off. In contrast, at our house, there is a lot of time spent on skills such as handwriting and chewing and learning how to introduce oneself to another child, among other things. So when the "sh" sound is properly pronounced for the first time or when one of my children writes his name legibly on a page, these are worthy of celebration. Parents of typical kids could celebrate these things, too, but they probably pass by unmarked because they are expected.
I have gotten to do quite a bit of celebrating with my kids. There are too many milestones to list--taking a vitamin, letting water get in his face in the shower, staying dry at night (every now and then it happens!), learning how to stick his tongue out, sitting still during church, hearing a passing dump truck honk its horn and not having a meltdown, coloring a picture mostly in the lines, alternating feet going up the stairs, playing with another kid at the playground, touching something wet. My husband and I jump around and cheer for these things, buy special treats and give big hugs. We appreciate the complexity of the neurological pathway that had to be formed to accomplish a feat, the anxiety that had to be overcome, the many months of therapy that led to the success. And we get to celebrate! It may sound trivial, but these are really special moments. Kids notice when parents invest time in helping them learn something and they enjoy being congratulated on a job well done.
Growing up, there were a lot of expectations for the kids in my family. Whether it was doing our homework, cleaning our rooms, doing chores, performing to the best of our abilities in extracurriculars, etc., we did it and moved on. Perhaps there was a pat on the back or recognition of something special. We definitely were not ignored or neglected. But it feels so much different as I raise my own kids. I know them so well. They trust me to know when they need a hand, when it is not obvious to someone else that my son can't bend over to pick up a toy, or when one of them needs to hide his face in my shirt because of a particular smell. They know that I get what their limits are, that if they've had to focus for a long period on something and tolerated loud noises in a crowded place, then they just might need assistance if another challenge arises and their reserves have been used up. They know that I am there for them in the middle of the night. Or that I will help them calm down when someone bumps into them and no one gets why they are crying since they are not hurt. They don't often have to explain their reactions to me, and when they do, they know I am listening. I love the closeness that I have with my kids. I pray that I have the strength to continue to be a good listener and a shoulder to lean as the years pass and the challenges get more complicated.
If things came to them more easily, would I have put in as much effort to understand them? Their gifts, their fears, what makes them tick? It's hard to say, but it is easy to conceive that I might have taken many of their accomplishments for granted. So amidst all of the day-to-day work of raising these complicated kids, we get to celebrate pretty often. While my friends who are parents of typical kids don't get it when I excitedly proclaim that my youngest son took a bite of chocolate pudding, there are others who will jump up and cheer--friends, teachers, therapists, and our church family. And that is another huge blessing in itself, having those special people who can celebrate with us.
I have days where I wonder what I would change about my kids if I could change something. Would I get rid of allergies? Take away speech problems? Anxiety? Motor-planning problems? If I could pick one thing, which would I take away, what is the hardest thing? It's a pointless debate I have in my head, and I've learned to stop before I spend more than 30 seconds thinking about it. I can't choose the challenges my kids have to deal with any more than someone else gets to choose whether they get cancer or lose their job. If I could pick, I wouldn't allow any of these hardships. But the reality in this fallen world is that I don't get to pick. In eternity, the challenges will all be resolved. Until then, I'm on this ride with my kids. They are great travel companions and I am going to enjoy the journey with them.